Taipei: Fresh Station

It seemed entirely possible to bypass the brunt of the thing with a quick five minute drive to the restaurant. The basement was its usual damp-smelling self when I went down to pick up the car. There were a few little puddles here and there, but those came more from the carwash lady washing the cars than from any sort of flooding.

And the rain wasn’t really that bad when I left the garage. There was maybe a medium drizzle accompanied by an almost imperceptible breeze. Typhoon schmyphoon. Exaggerate. That’s the bread-and-butter of all-news channels in Taiwan. Where’s the knee-deep flooding that I saw on the television not seven minutes ago? Where’s the if-I-don’t-hold-on-to-the-streetlight-I’ll-be-blown-away tornado-grade wind?

No cars moving on the streets. Double parking like you’ve never seen. Smooth sailing for me. No mopeds to deal with; no taxis to cut me off; no pedestrians for me to accidentally run-over. Woo-hoo!

Then it comes. The fine mist of the drizzle became droplets and the droplets became blobs. Blobs and globs of thick, gooey hydrogen oxide slamed onto the windshield like flies on manure. Rain smeared over and over by the wipers; the world outside rendered a pixelated mosaic to everyone sitting inside the car – me included. The five minutes became ten minutes. Visibility reduced, one-way alleys became wrong-way alleys; traffic lights became ignored. Traffic lights became victims of the sudden, metal-bending gusts of wind. Nature flexing its muscles. Awe. Awe-some. Awe-inspiring.

Awww…aren’t they nice? During a typhoon, the city lets you park everywhere you’re normally not allowed to park. I double parked facing the wrong way in a narrow one-way right in front of the restaurant not because there weren’t other parking spots available in the vicinity of the restaurant, but simply because I could.

Fresh station. What a lame name. It sounds more like a self-serve food court salad stall than a sushi place. But a sushi place it is.

Hell of a sushi place it is. Damn fine sushi it serves.

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Other than the obligatory Hokkaido bafun uni, all of the other pieces of sea protein sitting on top of their rice pontoons were supposedly caught by the multi-Southeast-Asian-national crews employed by Taiwanese fishing boats plying their trade in the Pacific which, according to our sushi chef, would make whatever they catch “local”.

Local equals more environmentally friendly (marginally). Local equals less expensive (Taiwanese fisherman are paid like farmers while Japanese fisherman are paid like artisans). Local equals fresh (Fresh Station).

Fresh station employs an all-local crew of youngish-looking sushi chefs. Chefs young enough that I could still faintly detect remnants of puberty in their voices and their not fully articulated stubble(s).

Fresh station employs fresh local chefs whose knife-work resemble those of aged, Nippon-imported masters of import. The pieces of fish were so beautifully sliced that they felt like they were each a lifeform in themselves. It was as if, separated from the whole of the flesh that they came from, they became a full, complete, life-endowed being. It felt as if, when I was biting into each piece, I was biting into a firm, vibrant living thing rather than a blood-drained, heartbeat-devoid corpse.

The perfectly shaped, perfectly textured, perfectly flavoured, and perfectly-room-temperature rice was, as they say, all gravy. It was the perfectly perfect complement to the perfect fish.

Perfectly perfect fish on rice is perfectly fine. So perfectly fine that it can be found in more than a handful of sushi places in Taipei, and more than a busload of places in Tokyo. Perfect sushi is nowhere near extraordinary sushi or sublime sushi.

Especially when the non-sushi items were imperfect. They were ordinary.

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Above average, well-cooked, but utterly ordinary.

And then, just to mess itself up, my mind remembered what was extraordinary about the food at Fresh Station: the pickled things. They serve you a pickled up veg or fruit in between every sushi course. They served me a piece of sushi in-between every one of those i-didn’t-know-you-could-pickle-this-and-make-it-taste-better-than-fresh-and-unpickled surprises.

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The sneaky young co-op chef-proprietors of Fresh Station; trying to put one over us. Fresh Station my arse. Fresh isn’t what they do best.

The typhoon turned out to be more meteorological blunder and media hype than any sort of tangible disaster.

Natural disasters. Food in its natural state. Good.

Food in its altered state. Better, in this case.

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